What is Data-ism? The etymology of an -ism is a study in the roots of art history. -Ism as a suffix, with Greek and Latin roots is not unique to art; there are isms that describe many conditions and states (egocentrism), actions (vandalism), philosophies (Humanism), belief systems (Hinduism). However, western art movements have been historically, and often subsequent to their actual occurrence, dubbed as “-isms”: suffixed ideas, where the initializing noun defines the dominate characteristic, style, or lasting energy of a period in art production.
From the Renaissance to Post-Modernism and our present artistic age, art history punctuates in a series of super classes, defining the attitudes and stylistic tendencies of a respective era. In this vein, Pointillism defines a technique of painting by dot proximity, and Impressionism defines the spirit of a movement meant not for realistic representation of the world, but fuzzy and impassioned imagery loosely layered on a canvas, best at a glance or a distance for leaving a lasting “impression.”
Seurat, Grande Jatte (Pointillism)
Benjamin Berg, Glitch Art Pillows
Data, as a plural or set of datum, gives us the digestable sound bytes and bits of information that make an obscure assortment of values less opaque by assemblage. Raw data can lack order and overwhelm its observers, not unlike other are movements or genres. However, data is a set of unordered values, and unlike the other -isms, Dataism describes the elements of an -ism, rather that the characteristic, style or affect of the artworks within its genre. In this way, defining an art movement by data is analogous to defining it by some other elemental constituent to making: an atom, or a bitcoin, or a byte. Compounded with others of the same or similar type, each of these infinitesimal parts adds to a complex creative whole.
Data-ism, an art movement where works are composed of data, loosely parallels Pointillism, an art movement where works are composed of points, and yet it is distinct from art movements whose names define a result: Realism (renders “real” imagery), Cubism (describes a geometric style of rendered works), Mannerism (implies a mannered, or stylized exaggeration of forms). In taking its name from its basic constituents, Dataism does not define the end result of its art; it defines the root, rather than the resulting tree.
As such, in many ways, Dataism shadows all art of our modern technologically-infused era under the same umbrella of ambiguity and Gestaltian distinction. Most art produced today, even when made manually and unaided by technology cannot claim complete obscurity from technological aid or innovation; in the same way that artists of any historical period are necessarily affected by their contemporary contexts. In this current Dataism exhibition, the artworks evolve from an understanding of data collected, or generated by the application, device or implications of the artworks themselves. Despite this comparative objective and execution, these works cannot completely cleave from other artworks not featured here, and the question remains: what isn’t art, when the defining elements of the movement are so basic that anything digital technically qualifies?
David Brooks in New York Times
Mariana Garcia, Supermodernism (2013)
Is a tweet art, as it represents not just 140 characters of content, 140 characters of constituent data, but also 9 times that amount in associated metadata? Is metadata somehow a class of über-art in the genre of Dataism, as it implies “data about data” which may or may not be apparent to observers? Does all digital, net, new media and post-media art qualify as Data-istic work, as each loosely, objectively, or even peripherally implies some type of datum in its makeup? One might also wonder, why other movements weren’t so clever: failing to ensure their immortality by simply defining themselves more generally. What might the next movement be? What is art after Data-ism? Hard to say, when the medium that defines the message is so ubiquitous. What will be the next art movement, if not one somehow subtly defined by data, where data means everything from “information, to intelligence, to material, to input?”*
Perhaps then, we’ve evolved from a time where the prevailing question was “what is art?” to one where the dominant question is “what isn’t?”
* Definition borrowed from the afore-linked google search
Aurelia Moser is a digital archivist and metadata maven.